Catching Up (1): Plunge, Asmussen, Koorax

2009 brought to the Rifftides doorstep an unprecedented number of albums hoping for attention. If I had listened all day every day this year, I could not have paid proper attention to even a small percentage of them. I have been attempting to catch up with some of the CDs in the stacks that occupy what's left of my floor space (shelves are no longer available). In this series of posts, I will call to your attention a few of them. Some of these items will be not so much reviews as listening … [Read more...]

Guaraldi With Spoon and Webster

This seems to be the week for unexpected videos to materialize. In the piece highlighted in the previous exhibit, Jack Berry joined me in lamenting that we could find no evidence of Vince Guaraldi on film or tape. Jazz writer Ken Dryden came to the rescue this morning with a reminder that Guaraldi's trio backed Jimmy Witherspoon and Ben Webster in a 1962 episode of Ralph J. Gleason's Jazz Casual program on PBS. Here are two excerpts recalling one of the great singer-instrumentalist partnerships. … [Read more...]

A Guaraldi Story

The recent reissue of music by Vince Guaraldi and subsequent Rifftides and radio ramblings led the veteran print and broadcast journalist Jack Berry to grace a new web site with an account of a piquant Guaraldi adventure. It has to do with Vince's ability to make lemonade. When he climbed up on the bench and began his first tune, however, something ominous occurred. There was an entirely dead note on the piano. Guaraldi halted the song and looked into the middle distance with an expression of … [Read more...]

Pollard And Gibbs, 1956

When Terry Pollard died the other day, I scoured the internet in hopes of finding video of her playing. I had no luck. But moments ago, Mark Stryker of The Detroit Free Press notified me that a clip has appeared on YouTube of the pianist in Terry Gibbs's quartet on The Tonight Show in 1956. They play "Gibberish," on the harmonic pattern of "Oh, Lady Be Good," then a riotous vibes duet on the Charlie Parker blues "Now's The Time" with Tonight Show host Steve Allen accompanying on piano. This is … [Read more...]

The Cross-Cultural Chet Baker

San Francisco's Company C Contemporary ballet company includes this item in the announcement of its spring season. Charles Anderson, Beautiful Maladies
 Music by: Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, Hoagy Carmichael, George Benson and others 
 Arranged and performed by: Chet Baker Expanded from last season's You Don't Know What Love Is, Charles Anderson's Beautiful Maladies, is set to seven exquisite ballads arranged and sung by West Coast Jazz legend Chet Baker. Enveloped by Baker's silky smooth … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Herman Before The Herd

Two year after he took over the Isham Jones band, Woody Herman had infused it with his personality and leadership. We see and hear evidence in this piece from a film short made in 1938. It may seem a quaint choice of material, but in the late thirties, King Oliver's "Doctor Jazz" was still a minor staple in the repertoires of groups small and large. This is the polished pre-Herd Herman enjoying a novelty piece that he had recorded for Decca. … [Read more...]

Terry Pollard, 1931-2009

Terry Pollard was a gifted pianist whose ability paralleled that of her fellow Detroiters Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris. She shared their grasp of the bebop vocabulary and, some admirers claimed, swung even harder. I became aware of her when she recorded with the vibraharpist Terry Gibbs in the early 1950s. She is with Gibbs on this album, one of her few recordings. In the picture below, which I pirated from the photo section of Bill Crow's web site, Ms. Pollard is at Birdland with Gibbs, Crow … [Read more...]

Other Places: Bob Brookmeyer

I yield to no one in my admiration for Bob Brookmeyer, but Darcy James Argue gives me a good run for my money. Brookmeyer, the ground-breaking composer, arranger, leader and nonpareil valve trombone soloist, entered his ninth decade this week. Early in December, the Eastman School of Music honored him for his lifetime of achievement and he sat in with the students there. I cannot improve on the eloquence about Brookmeyer in Argue's Secret Society web log. A sample: Brookmeyer is one of the … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Mays, Weidman, Drummond

Bill Mays, Mays at the Movies (Steeplechase). The pianist is a veteran of motion picture sound stages, but in this stimulating trio session he's free from click tracks, conductors and scores. With bassist Peter Washington and drummer Billy Drummond, Mays interprets nine pieces from films as disparate as Cocoanut Grove (1938) and Burn After Reading (2008). Highlights: his thorough exploration of the love theme from 'Spartacus;" the dazzling succession of key changes on "I've Never Been in Love … [Read more...]

Broadbent’s Quadruple

At the conclusion of the previous post, Crow's Names, I wrote: And that, unless a name shows up that reduces the staff to uncontrollable laughter or stunned admiration, ends this exercise in punditry. Alan Broadbent met not one but both requirements. Say it aloud. Darrell, Neville, Bea and Arthur Hugh … [Read more...]

Crow’s Names

The Rifftides staff is pleased that the eminent bassist, raconteur and author Bill Crow reads the blog. Among his many activities, Mr. Crow writes the Band Room column in New York AFM Local 802's Allegro monthly publication. Every now and then he contributes a Rifftides comment. Bill's latest communiqué is in response to the Freddie Schreiber item in the following exhibit. It deserves wider exposure than it might get as a comment to that piece. I have taken the liberty of removing from his list … [Read more...]

Schreiber’s Names

If you a follower of the occasional Rifftides discussions about the music and wit of the late bassist Freddie Schreiber, you know that his inventiveness overlapped into name creation. Dean Reilly, the San Francisco bassist who is an admirer of Schreiber on all fronts, provided what appears to be an authentic list of some of the names Freddie invented. Schreiber's original names inspired imitations that can be found on many web sites. For now, we confine ourselves to a few from the, uh, Dean's … [Read more...]

Meet Chris Dawson

I had never heard of Chris Dawson until this morning, when a link to a video showed up in a friend's e-mail message. The message contained rave blurbs about Dawson from Alan Broadbent, Charlie Haden, Dave Frishberg, Dick Hyman, Gary Foster, John Clayton and Bob Sheppard. The endorsements got my attention. The video was a shortened version of a longer film story about a pianist's miraculous recovery from a hand injury that had ended his playing and put him on the street. In the clip, Dawson was … [Read more...]


The first snowfall of the season is on the ground. This was the morning view from an upstairs bedroom. That gives me a reason, though none is required, to bring you the original recording of "Snowfall" by Claude Thornhill and his orchestra. Thornhill composed and arranged the song. The recording is from 1941, shortly after he formed his band. The photo montage looks as if it could be from the same period. For a brief history and discography of Claude Thornhill, go here. "Snowfall" and several … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes: Claude Thornhill

My intention was to create something new and arresting, an orchestra different from others on the scene - I wrote sixty arrangements to start with. We rehearsed every afternoon, rain or shine. Perfect intonations in the sections and balance of the overall sound of the orchestra were emphasized. With the exception of certain places in our arrangements, the orchestra played without vibrato. Vibrato was used to heighten expressiveness. It seems to me that touch and tone are pretty much overlooked … [Read more...]

The Hard Drive Solution

What do Jeremy Eichler and I have in common? We are out of room for the thousands of CDs that show up when you commit music criticism. Eichler is the classical music critic of The Boston Globe. Some time ago, I wrote about a temporary solution that I applied to the problem of limited shelf space. Eichler has taken a more drastic step. He is putting his collection where the only space consideration is the capacity of his hard drive. His article in today's Globe begins: Piles of CDs surround me. I … [Read more...]

The Newest Picks

In the center column, slightly south, you will find the latest Rifftides recommendations in Doug's Picks. We suggest two new CDs, an imperishable 50-year-old recording, a DVD of a blistering big band and a book held over from last time because reading hours have been few and far between around here lately and I'm not going to pretend I've read something I haven't. Enjoy. … [Read more...]

CD: Carla Bley

Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, The Partyka Brass Quintet, Carla's Christmas Carols (Watt). Bley arranges nine classic carols with tenderness, wit, harmonic brilliance, wide dynamic range and a wry sense of nostalgia. She adds two of her own pieces, the gorgeous "Jesus Maria" and "Hell's Bells", a joyous concoction on "I Got Rhythm" changes. Swallow's bass work, as always, is perfection. Prepare to be captivated by the brass ensemble and by the solos of trombonist Adrian Mears, trumpeter Axel … [Read more...]

Here’s Looking At Picture Books, Kid

On the Jazzhouse web site, W. Royal Stokes posts a valuable column recommending recent jazz, blues and pop photography and art books. It is an extensive list, just in time for Christmas. Stokes gives each book a thorough paragraph of review and a link to an online source for purchase. Here is some of what he writes about Hank O'Neal's Ghosts of Harlem, a recent Doug's Pick: That he shot them with an ancient wooden view camera, setting up lights, inserting a plate, and throwing a cloth over his … [Read more...]

CD: Chris Potter, Steve Wilson, Et Al

Chris Potter, Steve Wilson, Terell Stafford, Coming Together (Inarhyme). This was to have been the recording debut in 2005 of the young tenor saxophonist Brendan Romaneck. That year he died at 24 in a traffic accident. In his memory, saxophonists Potter and Wilson, trumpeter Stafford and a fine rhythm section completed the project. Eight of the compositions are Romaneck's. Three are standard songs. Potter is compelling with a pianoless trio on "My Shining Hour." Wilson and Stafford shine on … [Read more...]

CD: Miles Davis

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Columbia). Okay, this is the zillionth reissue, and it's not the first to include alternate takes, false starts or a second CD of performances by the classic Davis sextet. The difference? Columbia got the sound right - no forced reverberation, echo, clipping, compression or other digital-age engineering cuteness. This is how the music should sound. Nice packaging, too, retaining the original cover on a sturdy three-panel fold-out box. If you don't own Kind of Blue, … [Read more...]

DVD: Woody Herman

Woody Herman, Live in '64 (Jazz Icons). This captures Herman on British television long after he stopped naming or numbering his Herds. It was one his most exciting bands, driven by drummer Jake Hanna and bassist Chuck Andrus. Upstate New York terrors Joe Romano and Sal Nistico are fascinating in their contrasting tenor sax styles. Two underrated trumpet soloists, Paul Fontaine and Billy Hunt, stand out, as does trombonist Phil Wilson, a master of high-note eloquence. But it's the tout ensemble … [Read more...]

Book: Scott La Faro

Helene La Faro-Fernández, Jade Visions: The Life and Music of Scott La Faro (North Texas). There will be other books about the most important young bassist of the last half of the twentieth century. Their authors will mine this invaluable first biography. The insight La Faro's sister gives into his character, musicality and determination could come only from someone so close. But the book is not just memories. La Faro-Fernández conducted dozens of interviews and did meticulous research to … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: What Is Jazz? Part 438

Thanks to Bill Royston for calling our attention to a strange turn of events at a jazz festival in Spain. Here is beginning of The Guardian's story about the incident: Jazzman Larry Ochs has seen many things during 40 years playing his saxophone around the world but, until this week, nobody had ever called the police on him. That changed on Monday night however, when's Spain's pistol-carrying Civil Guard police force descended on the Sigüenza Jazz festival to investigate allegations that Ochs's … [Read more...]